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Motoring: Volkswagen Type 2 Transporter - 1950

Like the Beetle, the Volkswagen Transporter has received numerous nicknames worldwide, including the "kombi van", "microbus", "minibus", and, because of its popularity during the counterculture movement of the 1960s, "Hippie van". During the hippie era of the 1960s, the Volkswagen Microbus became a major counterculture symbol and icon associated with alternate lifestyles. Some Kombi enthusiasts (especially antiwar activists) would replace the VW logo with a painted peace symbol up front. This unlikely symbol of the peace movement was birthed in the aftermath of World War II.

The idea for the Type (aka Transporter), as it was called, is credited to Dutch Volkswagen importer Ben Pon, who drew the first sketches of the van in 1947. Introduced in 1950, it was the second automotive line developed by German automaker Volkswagen. The Type 2 is generally considered to be the forerunner of all modern cargo and passenger vans.

The aerodynamics of the first prototypes were not good but heavy optimization took place at the wind tunnel of the Technical University of Braunschweig. The wind tunnel work paid off, as the Type 2 was aerodynamically superior to the Beetle despite its slab-sided shape. Three years later, under the direction of Volkswagen's new CEO Heinz Nordhoff, the first production model left the factory at Wolfsburg.

The Type 2, along with the 1947 Citroen H Van, are among the first 'forward control' vans in which the driver was placed above the front roadwheels. They started a trend in Europe, where the 1952 GM Bedford CA, 1958 RAF-977, 1959 Renault Estafette, 1960 BMC Morris J4, and 1960 Commer FC also used the concept. In the United States, the Corvair-based Chevrolet Corvan cargo van and Greenbrier passenger van went so far as to copy the Type 2's rear-engine layout, using the Corvair's horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine for power. Except for the Greenbrier and various 1950s-70s Fiat minivans, the Type 2 remained unique in being rear-engined. This was a disadvantage for the early "barndoor" Panel Vans, which could not easily be loaded from the rear because the engine cover intruded on interior space, but generally advantageous in traction and interior noise.

Another trend that the Type 2 may not have started, but that it certainly gave momentum to, is the use of nicely-trimmed commercial vans as people carriers. Named the Kombi, because the seats could quickly be removed to turn it into a carry van, their popularity increased rapidly in the 1960s during the hippie era, when it became a major counterculture symbol. There were several reasons: the van could carry a number of people plus camping gear and cooking supplies, extra clothing, do-it-yourself carpenter's tools, etc. As a "statement", its boxy, utilitarian shape made the Kombi everything the cars of the day were not. Used models were incredibly cheap to buy - many were hand-painted.

Series 2 - 1968

In 1968, the second generation Type 2 was introduced. It was built in Germany until 1979, with production shifting to Mexico in 1980 and to Brazil in 1996. The second-generation Type 2 lost its distinctive split front windscreen and was slightly larger and considerably heavier than its predecessor. It also came with a new name - Mircobus - but outside of the factory and Volkswagen dealerships, it continued to be known as the Kombi. The second generation Type 2 was equally as popular as the first generation Type 2 had been.

Exterior revisions of the second-generation Type 2 included relocated front turn indicators, squared off and set higher in the valance, above the headlights. Also, square-profiled bumpers, which became standard until the end of the T2 in 1979, were introduced in 1973. Crash safety improved with this change because of a compressible structure behind the front bumper. This meant that the T2b was capable of meeting US safety standards for passenger cars of the time, though not required of vans. The "VW" emblem on the front valance became slightly smaller.

In the late 1960s, demand for Microbuses rigged out for camping was increasing dramatically, particularly after the introduction of the second-generation Type 2, and a number of specialists began offering professional conversions. This gave birth to a new, very popular variation of the Kombi - the campervan.

Series 3 - 1980

The Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) also known as the T25, (or Vanagon in the United States), the T3 platform was introduced in 1980, and was one of the last new Volkswagen platforms to use an air-cooled engine. The Volkswagen air-cooled engine was phased out for a water-cooled boxer engine (still rear-mounted) in 1984. Compared to its predecessor the T2, the T3 was larger and heavier, with square corners replacing the rounded edges of the older models. The T3 is sometimes called "the wedge" by enthusiasts to differentiate it from earlier Kombis.

Since production of the original Beetle was halted in late 2003 as a 2004 model, the T2 remained the only Volkswagen model with the traditional air-cooled, rear-mounted boxer engine until the Brazilian model shifted to a water-cooled engine on 23 December 2005. The end of the Volkswagen air-cooled engine on a worldwide basis was marked by a Special Edition Kombi. An exclusive Silver paint job, and limited edition emblems were applied to only 200 units in late 2005, and were sold as 2006 models.

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